The journey to Pompei was going to be roughly 250km and knowing what the Italian roads are like we decided that rather than rush it, we would stop two thirds of the way, just before Naples at another Fattore Amico farm. There weren’t many to choose from, but we found what looked like a nice farm in the book which sold wine and honey whilst also having a restaurant and offering horse riding. The weather has been rising steadily and when we arrived mid-afternoon on Monday it was in the high twenties. Keith went to speak to the owners and ask if it was ok for us to stay but was told to come back in half an hour or so as the owners weren’t around and no-one spoke English/Spanish/French. After a cup of tea, a bit of muesli making and whilst the rolls were rising we headed back, but still no sign of the owners. Just after 5pm a man drove up next to us, honked his horn and shouted to see if anyone was around (he obviously didn’t want to get out of his van.. who knows what disease the English carry….) and told us we couldn’t stay here as it was his land. Now, with the language barrier between us, I initially assumed he must have been the owner of the farm, bringing out the Fattore Amico book to explain, but he wasn’t having any of it and just wanted to know if we were paying to stay and when I told him we weren’t, we just planned to buy some wine and honey he shrugged his shoulders and appeared to begrudgingly say we could stay the night although it was obvious he wasn’t happy. So, after finishing the muesli and the rolls we were surprised when another car pulled up with a mother and daughter (who evidently were the owners of the farm) explaining that we couldn’t stay as the farm was closed for maintenance and that we should have called ahead. I apologised and said that we would move on which appeared to spark a random change of heart as she then said we could stay but they were going to put a locked chain across the drive which wouldn’t be opened until about 8:30 am the next morning. We are still none the wiser as to who the old man was who told us that it was his land and we didn’t see anyone else from the farm but we had a peaceful night in the middle of the field without any further problems!
We set off to Pompei leaving our field behind us on what should have been an hour/hour and a halves journey, but ended up being one of the Italian driving experiences….. It appears that someone has decided that to cut costs they should turn off all traffic lights as both yesterday and today none were working which made the Italian drivers even more impatient than normal. This wasn’t helped by the fact that as we were working our way round Vesuvius trying to avoid Naples our SatNav sent us through a couple of town centers where we really shouldn’t have been driving as the roads were barely wide enough for two small cars to pass, then as we got closer to Pompei we found that Tuesday was market day, closing the road we wanted to go down sending us down a narrow detour, made even narrower by the randomly abandoned cars owned by Italians who didn’t want to walk more than 10m to get bread, meat, fruit etc. When we finally made it to the campsite we were pleasantly surprised by the tranquility within in comparison to what we had driven through.
Zeus camping (16 euros inc. with ACSI) is 100m from the entrance to the Pompei ruins and above the hustle of the city which was a relief. All the pitches on the campsite are nestled between trees, great for shade, awful for satellite dishes and really bad if you aren’t a good driver as it sounds like there have been many a motorhome/caravan do quite serious damage. We however managed to find a lovely pitch which seemed to be twice the width of the others and despite not being able to get any satellite signal we were pretty happy with ample space for the table and chairs, bar b q and awning …. Luxury 🙂
After eating lunch we decided to head into Pompeii to have a look at the hidden city, which is incredible – I have copied down some of the words used to describe the events that left Pompei a hidden city from one of the signs within the city itself as there is no way I would be able to describe it better in my own words…
On the morning of 24th August 79 AD, a sudden tremor abruptly interrupted the daily routine of the inhabitants of Pompei. This was followed shortly afterwards by a tremendous blast signaling the beginning of a violent eruption with a column of lapilli rising over 20,000 meters into the sky. Carried by the wind, this cloud of lapilli hailed down upon Pompei, submerging the city in just a few hours in some three meters of material. The roofs of many houses caved in under the weight, often crushing and killing those who had taken refuge within. But the worst was yet to come. At dawn the following day, the first pyroclastic flow, composing of hot gas and fine ash hit Pompei and sealed the fate of every person and animal it encountered. The burning ash clogged the lungs and caused death by suffocation. Shortly thereafter, when already there was no living thing in the city, a second flow, much more powerful than the first fell with fury upon the walls of the town toppling or sweeping away their upper portions. It is calculated that the pyroclastic flow was probably travelling at speeds between 65 and 80 kms/h as it engulfed and carried off objects, roofing tiles and bodies. Other surges hit Pompei in waves after the city had already been destroyed and in the end Pompei was left buried under 5-6 meters of ash and lapilli.
What the above text didn’t explain is that only 17 years before Vesuvius erupted, Pompei suffered an earthquake destroying a large part of the city and it had taken 17 years to re-construct the city to the point where it was almost finished when the city was buried.
It is truly incredible to think that the 66 Hectares of Pompei lay undiscovered until 1748 when exploration first started. Today 45 hectares have been excavated and the preservation of mosaics, sculptures, houses, paintings is incredible – especially considering it is on such a large scale.
Although we had planned to move on in the morning my run took me through Pompei new town and out to Scarfeli which looked interesting so we decided to stay on another night and explore a bit further.
Thursday however took us all of 16km (well, it should have been 16km, but I missed the turning and couldn’t turn around for another 5km, so ended up being slightly further…) along the peninsula towards Sorrento. Once I had finally managed to turn around (which on the Italian coastal roads is pretty difficult), we found our little road that took us down to Marina di Aequa which is a tiny fishing village looked down upon by Vico Equense. As we turned off of the main road expectations were low as I was half expecting to have to reverse all the 2kms back out, but amazingly it all worked out ok and the campsite (San Antonio -18 euros (+1 euro tax ppn) a night Inc. Elec. with ACSI) is right in the middle of the village with really helpful, friendly owners. Although it isn’t the cheapest campsite (and you have to pay extra for hot water), the location is perfect as it is 50m from the village which has a couple of restaurants, two public beaches (almost unheard of in Italy), about 1km from Vico Equense which is big enough to have everything you need and a bit more and 1.5km from the train station which goes into Sorrento (and Naples if you are interested)… nice and tranquil.
We caught the train into Sorrento on Friday and were glad that the journey was only 10 minutes as they certainly weren’t using their best trains for this route…..it was definitely a little rough round the edges and there was no doubt that it was pick pocket haven at peak times – the journey was fine though and we even had a three piece band playing on the outward journey 🙂
There is no doubt about it, Sorrento is pretty, although as my parents warned us it is very touristy now and expensive with it. The lanes are interesting but unfortunately are full of touristy ‘tat’ with the addition of all things ‘Lemon-y’ (including a huge amount of lemoncello) which kind of spoils the character of the town a little.
On Saturday morning we climbed up to Vico Equense which sits above the marina and although it is far smaller than Sorrento it has more charm, lots of interesting cafes and deli’s and less ‘tat’ – probably what Sorrento used to be like going back twenty years or so and the views aren’t too bad either ….
The area is famous for its meter long pizza, so we felt obliged to search out somewhere to try it heading up into Vico Equense in the evening. After checking out the options, including one enormous pizzeria which obviously catered to the tourists we ended up in a Deli type place with a wood burning oven in the corner half full of locals sharing tables. We found a corner to sit in and as the meter long pizza is really for 5+ people I opted for a calzone, Keith decided to go for a 50cm chef’s special and we ordered a bottle of ‘local’ red to help wash it down. As we waited for our food to arrive we watched the place get busier and busier with a mixture of young and old all sharing pizzas – there was a real buzz to the place. Our pizzas arrived and we weren’t disappointed…..
Keith’s ‘Chef special’ turned out to have one half with Broccoli and Anchovies, the other Tomato and mushroom – interesting that there wasn’t any meat considering everything contains meat here, but we certainly couldn’t complain about the quantity of cheese as both the pizza and my calzone were oozing the stuff from every angle.
With a walk down hill on the way home we felt that it would only be fair to stop at the deli/ice-cream shop that we bought some local cheese in earlier in the day and bought some ice-cream to round off the meal, rolling home on very contented stomachs!